GE envisions (mostly) current technology applied to changing social and living needs.
Today’s visions of the home of the future often center on coupling smartphone and personal sensor technology with security.
“It’s about the home knowing where you are,” says Yves Behar, founder and principal designer for Fuseproject, an industrial design and brand development firm in San Francisco. In an interview with Dezeen magazine, Behar envisioned wristband sensors that can activate lights, the HVAC system, and appliances as an owner gets closer to his or her house.
Just how intimately owners want to bond biometrically with their houses remains to be seen. But product designers at least are convinced that future buyers and owners will demand more comfort, convenience, and safety from where they live.
That’s what GE Appliances is counting on. Over a 90-day period earlier this year, the Louisville, Ky.-based company assigned 25 designers and eight engineers to study trends in food science, demographic shifts, ecological issues, health care services, water scarcity, and home delivery. The goal was to come up with product concepts that are likely to change the way Americans live.
These “Home 2025” teams focused on functional improvements in kitchens, cooking, laundry, and the home environment. They concluded that an open-plan kitchen as an extension of a house’s living space is here to stay; that all age groups are embracing technology in their daily lives; that the interest in the relationship between health and home is growing; and that appliances will become more integrated into a house’s operations.
Home 2025 has its share of out-there predictions, like a mirror that recognizes a handprint to measure a person’s vital signs to determine the medicine dosages it would then dispense. And will there really be a groundswell of demand for in-home 3D printers?
But GE’s ideas typically apply a variation of existing technology to meet evolving social norms, explains Lou Lenzi, GE’s director of industrial design operation.
Some of GE’s ideas advance a personalized “supply chain” of which a builder could be a link. For example, an owner who’s away could order groceries online and have them delivered and stored in a cooling device installed next to the front door that would be accessible to the service provider (see rendering, above). An extension of this idea turns a refrigerator into an inventory manager that automatically orders perishables online once they run out. Such “total systems” would require upfront coordination among the manufacturer, the builder, and the service provider, says Lenzi.
The future GE envisions might be sooner than you think. The company has recently invested $1 billion into its U.S.-based appliance production. By doing so, Lenzi says GE is poised for “rapid prototyping” that would get concepts in front of prospective customers quicker, and could lead to shorter development and production cycles.